Nike has pushed the bar even further today, dropping the lightest Air Max 1 shoe ever in the new Nike Air Max 1 Ultra Flyknit. Off the pitch, it’s important you look the part and from what we’ve seen so far, these kicks are hot to go.
Chatting Air Max, we chatted with Nike Air Max mastermind and lead designer, Ben Yun about what went into making the latest Air Max 1.
THE TURF: Take us back to the beginning of designing the Air Max 1. Can you elaborate on the original brief, and give us an idea of what your original thinking was?
BEN YUN: The brief was very simple; it asked for the most lightweight, most comfortable shoe possible. The main goal was to capture the original Max One design lines using Flyknit technology, to make it conform to your foot like a glove. It was a difficult process. We had to go through numerous rounds of sketches and designs in the beginning to get to a silhouette that could work well with both the Flyknit material and the structure of the Air Max 1. In my original sketches, the shoe’s design had a combination of light and heavy texture to help form shape, exactly how a sweater is shaped by the knit of heavy texture and lighter texture together. When you look at the shoe, you can see strategic knit holes throughout that keep it very lightweight and breathable.
TURF: Can you talk us through how you got to the Flyknit fuse and why the fuse was the best design and option?
BY: The biggest challenge was figuring out how to nail down the important design lines that inherently belong to the silhouette of the Air Max 1. When you see the Air Max 1 from far away, you immediately see the contrast color between the swoosh and the shoe. Fans of the shoe immediately know that design, and we wanted that recognition in the new shoe. In order to get the exact line we had to design an overlay, which for me was cool, to go back to a design that was more crafted with a unique texture and feel.
TURF: As far as the upper build, can you talk a little bit about how you streamlined the structure?
BY: The structure of the Air Max 1 is reinforced with hyper-fuse design in the upper. Because the Flyknit is so soft and flexible, we reinforced it with a hyper-fuse design to hold the shape.
TURF: This is the first time Nike has applied ultra-sole to the Air Max One. Can you speak a little about that topic as a whole, and how you approached that task?
BY: My original idea was to take the original tooling of the Air Max 1 silhouette and play with it to make it flexible, lightweight, free of unnecessary material. Basically that meant removing all the rubber and exposing the air bags. We took this a step further in weight reduction and flexibility by using the Ultra tooling.
TURF: Can you speak a little bit on the complexities of the specific areas of Flyknit?
BY: The Air Max 1 silhouette is so simple, and we wanted to keep the new Flyknit version simple as well to stay true to that. Our goal was to keep it as one structure. Flyknit is complex and a fine material that we have to knit it tighter and looser in different areas so that it conforms to the shape and replicates the Air Max 1 silhouette. In some areas on the shoe it’s more tightly woven, less stretchy to build the structure. In other areas it is looser, more breathable, allows for a wrapping of the material. It is really the bigger, looser knit parts of the upper shape that keep it very lightweight and breathable. That lightweight and breathable quality of Flyknit makes the Air Max 1 the perfect shoe to come out in the summertime.
TURF: Because it’s so iconic, did you feel an overall sense of responsibility to catch all the details in the Air Max 1 design?
BY: Even though today we have all the technology and design programs and machines to create products exactly as we imagine them, however we still have to engineer the knitting process to take Flyknit to new places. Because each shoe is knit specifically, it’s hard to make sure every pair fresh out of the box is identical. It’s a huge game of finesse when you deal in new materials.
TURF: Two of the biggest icons at Nike are the 95 and the Air Max 1. Coming into this project, was there anything specific you wanted to achieve with this particular shoe? The brief says make it the lightest ever, check, but what else did you set out to do?
BY: It was such a huge responsibility. At the same time, I feel very privileged to have a chance work on this shoe because I spent so much of my career on the Max line. Bringing Flyknit to the Air Max 1 really opened a lot of doors with regards to fit, which I really wanted to focus on. Transforming the fit of the original shoe, while still staying true to the original design and silhouette was probably the most challenging achievement of my work on the Max line so far.
TURF: How would you guide a fan of Air Max through your newly created Air Max 1 Ultra Flyknit shoe?
BY: Firstly, the tooling is the most comfortable, the most lightweight that we have had so far on this shoe: it hardly feels like you’re wearing a shoe at all. Secondly, the feels like you’re wearing a t-shirt or a sweater, in the way that it really conforms and fits to your own foot. Thirdly, we wanted to eliminate as much excess material and design as possible to stay true to the original shoe: no distraction inside or outside. The goal was to celebrate the comfort and design of the Max 1, but simplify it as much as possible, so that you don’t have anything getting in the way of the true fundamentals of the shoe.